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Pennsylvania County Gets $2.5M to Expand Broadband Reach

The Appalachian Regional Commission's Partnerships for Opportunity, Workforce and Economic Revitalization program awarded the grant to Washington County as part of an effort to get some 10,000 unserved or poorly served households online.

(TNS) — Washington County has received a $2.5 million grant to extend Internet service to 857 homes in rural East Finley Township, the latest success by a county government in cobbling together grant money for expanded broadband access.

The Appalachian Regional Commission's Partnerships for Opportunity, Workforce and Economic Revitalization program awarded the grant to the county as part of an ambitious effort to get some 10,000 unserved, or poorly served households in the county online. Since Washington County's effort began in January, 2022, some 7,500 homes have been connected or contracts awarded for the linkups, according to John Timney, Washington County Authority's executive director.

So far, private contractors have contributed about $2.50 for every $1 Washington County has spent for broadband expansion, he said.

In a prepared statement, Washington County Commissioners Chair Diana Irey Vaughan said the award would "empower our community with opportunities for education, innovation and economic development."

Rick Newton, a serial entrepreneur and community revitalization leader in Washington County, said the expansion would help half of the families living in McGuffey School District who are not currently online.

"We are super unserved, super underserved," with broadband, he said. "Just like water, sewage, natural gas, you need Internet for any business in operation today."

"We think this is a great place to live, but it's living far below its potential," he said.

Washington County, formed from Westmoreland County in 1781, is a rural area with a population of about 210,000.

ARC's Washington County award was among 64 projects in 217 counties that received $54 million. In addition to broadband initiatives, the money was earmarked for downtown redevelopment, education, agriculture and other initiatives.

Still to come is the bulk of Internet expansion money from the federal Broadband Equity Access & Deployment Program, which was expected to be awarded next year in Pennsylvania, where more than 276,000 homes don't have an online connection and another 52,000 places have inadequate access. Pennsylvania, in line for $1.16 billion in BEAD funding, is among four states that have finished three of eight parts of the BEAD application for funding to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Washington County has not yet applied for BEAD funding through the state, which totals $42.45 billion and is earmarked to get fiber cable to every home in the U.S.

Louisiana is furthest ahead in getting BEAD funding, which has been described as the biggest and once-in-a-generation pot of government money for Internet expansion, according to NTIA. In August, NTIA approved Pennsylvania's five-year plan for its share of the BEAD funding, allowing the state to request 20% of its allocated funds.

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